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Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions Revised ed. Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 860-1300171654
ISBN-10: 0262611465
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Gary Klein studies decision-making in the field, tagging along with firefighters, standing by in intensive-care units, and watching chess masters play lightning-fast "blitz" games to learn how people make choices with time constraints, limited information, and changing goals. From this research, he and his associates have developed a theory of "naturalistic decision-making."

Sources of Power essentially lends the validity of scientific research to techniques that many of us use every day. There's intuition, which is based not on instantaneous insight but on the rapid (perhaps even subconscious) interpretation of perceptual cues. There's mental simulation, a finely honed method of visualization. There's storytelling and metaphor, which enable decision-makers to devise meaningful frameworks and compare their present situations to previous events. Nobody is born with an inherent mastery of these and other techniques, Klein tells us, but we are all born with the capability to develop, through experience, the skill sets experts call upon to make good decisions. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Most studies of decision-making treat humans like rats in a laboratory. But Dr. Klein, a cognitive psychologist, spent a decade watching fire commanders, fighter pilots, paramedics, and others making split-second decisions on the job, and this book is a clear and engaging account of his findings.

(Thomas Petzinger, Jr. The Wall Street Journal)

Sources of Power is without a doubt one of the finest works on decision making. A must for anyone responsible for training command and control personnel.

(Hugh E. Wood, Program Chair, Emergency Incident Policy and Analysis, National Fire Academy)

Underscoring his points by citing a wide variety of fascinating incidents uncovered during his research, Gary Klein develops an elaborate and plausible model of the decision making of experienced experts. In the process, he makes a convincing case for the study of decision making in naturalistic settings. This study demonstrates the power of recognition-primed action and provides a convincing critique of the real-world validity of the normative decision making produced in laboratory settings.

(Hubert L. Dreyfus, Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley and Stuart E. Dreyfus, Professor of Engineering Science, Emeritus, University of California)

Demonstrates the necessity of looking beyond economic and statistical models of decision making for an understanding of real-life decisions, particularly job-related decisions and decisions made in emergencies. The examples are excellent, deriving as they do from the authors extensive research with firefighters and the military.

(Lee Roy Beach, Ph.D., McClelland Professor of Management and Policy and Professor of Psychology, College of Business and Public Administration, University of Arizona)

After reading Sources of Power by Gary Klein I have a much better understanding of why and how experienced fire fighters make critical life and death decisions on the fire ground. I also have a better understanding of why new officers may have some problems with decision making. With 26 years as a Los Angeles County Fire Fighter, I have held every rank in the Operations Bureau and have commanded many types of incidents including the 1992 civil disturbance, 1993 firestorms, and the 1994 earthquake. This book has given me new insight on what level of performance I should expect from new company officers and how to improve their performance.

(Larry C. Miller, Operations Chief Deputy, Los Angeles County Fire Department)

Who are considered leaders in the field from whom we might solicit endorsements of your book either before or after publication? Both foreign and domestic leaders should be considered. We must have complete names and addresses. When suggesting endorsers, do not include contributors or anyone who may have been thanked in the acknowledgments.

(Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper, Marine Corps Combat Development Command)

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Product Details

  • Series: MIT Press
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Revised ed. edition (February 26, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262611465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262611466
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,684 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Traditional decision making models, according to Gary Klein, are built in academia, studied in labs where the circumstances are carefully controlled, and the test subject unfamiliar with the material. Decision making in the real world is something altogether different.
According to traditional decision making models, first you gather data, then you compile and compare options and decide on a course of action. Studying fire commanders, officers in the military, chess players, and many others in high pressured decision making positions, Klein came to the conclusion that you are more likely to come up with one course of action, run through it mentally to look for flaws. If you don't find any flaws in your model, you act on it, if you do find flaws, you do come up with another possible course of action, but you never compare two options, weighing the pros and cons of each. You simply don't have the time or energy.
Time pressure doesn't just apply to fire commanders and military leaders. It seems that this model holds up to people working under a deadlines that are weeks or months away as well.
Klein calls this the "Recognition Primed" decision making model (RPD). In essence, you compare quickly (and often unconsciously) the situation you're in with a sort of master story of previous situations you've been in. You can then recognize features that are analagous to, or different from, these earlier experiences, allowing you to form accurate mental models and intuit courses of action.
Because of this, experience is extremely important in the decision makin process. If you do not have past experience to draw from, you are more likely to fall back on the traditional decision making models - gathering data and options and weighing them.
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book on decision making. I borrowed a copy at my library. Once I started reading it, I realized that this actually belonged to an serious business reader's bookshelf. I went out and bought a copy. There are several features that make this book a must-have: 1. The author's tlk about decision making under high pressure 2. Time, as in real life, is at premium 3. There is often little opportunity to do detailed analysis as our graduate school textbooks showed us. 4. There is a lot more to decisions than rational choice models.
This book takes all this into account. The authors present a coherent argument. The book's logical organization makes thier points easy to grasp. This book will be of value to both managers and researchers. Unlike many other books on decison making, this one is based on rigirous research spannig many years---not one guy's opinions. Buy it, highlight it, dog-ear it, and absorb it. Sources of Power is truly an excellent source of power about a new, integrative way of thinking. EXCELLENT READ.
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Format: Paperback
Sources of Power is a fine volume that systematically dismantles classical "rational decisionmaking" (lets get a whiteboard and compare strengths and weaknesses shall we?) and sets out a wide array of decision-making techniques that we use, often quite unconsciously. These include (and the list here is far from exhaustive):

- Recognition primed decision making.
- The power to spot leverage points.
- Seeing the invisible, or the big picture.
- Storytelling, metaphors and analogues.
- The power of the team mind.

Rather than grind us through the theory, Klein packs this book with analogies and case studies, well told, that illustrate the points and provide a platform for explaining what it is that's going on when people - often in critical life and death situations - need to make the right decisions. There's no time for a whiteboard session when you're confronting an inferno.

Plenty of people can benefit from this volume. It serves as an excellent introduction to decision theory, an insightful approach to understanding the human mind and a practical manual for qualitative researchers who wish to gain more from their interviews. Quite often, as Klein demonstrates, people make massive decisions without even being aware they're doing so.

Is there a downside here? My only gripe is Klein's tendency to promote his own firm and to remind us that Klein Associates does things to a high degree of professionalism. This occurs to the point where an excellent text takes on, just slightly, the patina of self promotion. But that's a minor thing in the big scheme. "Sources of Power" is useful reading.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After a year has passed since having read this book and since also having delved into QFD, AHP, MAUT, heuristics and biases (Kahneman, Slovic & Tversky),etc., I've had the opportunity to generate a decision methodologies course. I came back to this material as a central theme for the course. Why? Because, in practice, traditional decision support methodologies (mentioned above) usually fail to reach their goal - which is to take real people and get them to make better decisions. Sources of Power provides a framework for understanding about how real people make decisions - novices, journeymen and experts - and how they differ. Because the Klein Associates' Recognition-Primed Decision model (RPD) begins to explain expertise's properties, some surprising things fall out: experts typically do not weigh alternatives in trade-study fashion. Experts must be able to see the context of the raw data, not just processed data. Now we can understand the limitations of collaboration tools as "the answer" for integrated product development. Expertise must be supported, not IT-based solutions. This leads to totally different thinking about how to train people to make better decisions and not just in time-critical domains.

With the insights related above, this opens some doors to new ways of understanding why other techniques fail. When formulating a decision problem, the goal must be carefully formulated. Sources of Power will subtly change your approach. Without this understanding of decision support methods, your chances of solving the wrong problem go up exponentially: when you remove expertise from the difficult problem-solving domain, no decision method can save you.

Note that multi-attribute problems still need methodology support: problems comparing "apples, oranges & bananas".
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